We entered the dark, musty cave cautiously. I held my short spear at the ready, and Alexander had grabbed a thick, straight tree branch for a weapon. His chainmail echoed through the silence of the cavern with every step. Verranda followed closely behind, holding her hunting knife back-handed. My breath became misty as we went further, the cave becoming darker and colder. Dew lined the rough stone walls.
"... It should be around here somewhere..." Verranda said, as we travelled further into the increasingly dark, cavernous hall.
Just as the cave was about to turn pitch black, we saw the faint torchlight ahead.
"... Just a bit further..." I whispered as my eyes started readjusting for the light.
I heard the sound of mechanics engaging at a rapid speed, I had a split second to react. Verranda screamed as she threw herself to the floor, as I twirled back and rolled across the ground.
When I looked back, Alexander wasn't as lucky.
A sythe blade swung out of the cavern wall, about chest height. Life seemed to slow to a crawl as I saw Alex lurch backwards. Chain rings twirled as they floated through the air. A coputious amount of blood followed the blade as it retracted, seeming to linger in the air for seconds. The branch didn't fall out of his hand for what seemed like minutes.
Time returned to me as he fell to the ground uncerimoniously, chainmail links clinking against the cave around him. A path of blood went in an arch, starting at Alexander, in the path the blade took.
"-ALEX!!!!" Verranda yelled, revirbrating throughout the cave. I got up and raced to him, panic setting in my mind. Blood slowly seeped from under his body, but he was still breathing... Barely. He tried to push himself up, but collapsed again with an agonizing grunt.
"-Don't try to move! You'll only hurt yourself..." I said as I searched my mind in vain for some way to help him.
Alex clenched his fists and forced his eyes shut, trying to endure the horrific pain. Verranda ran up and rolled him on his back. I flinched as I saw the wound.
It was a perfectly horizontal gash across his chest, about three to four centimeters deep, just missing his heart. The ribs there had been split cleanly in two, lengthwise. Thinking back, the sharpness of the sythe and the force of it must have been phenominal.
The injury was far beyond first-aid, I thought to myself, and even beyond conventional treatment. A powerful elixer could heal him, but we had no money to buy one... Likewise a priest could heal him with magic from the gods, but we were in the middle of nowhere.
Verranda didn't so much as blink when she saw the hideous gash, as if she'd seen countless others like it. She studied it for a second and looked back at me.
"There's has to be something here. No one traps a useless cave..." She paused for a moment. "... Maybe there's something that can help Alex..."
I stopped her. "-You're saying we should go on?! Are you out of your mind? We-" The sound of a heavy stone door closing caught my attention. It sounded like it was relatively close, about fifty meters down the torchlit hallway. I stood up and paused for a moment.
"... Stay here, Verranda, I'm going to check that out. Maybe you were right..." She opened her mouth to protest, probably to offer that she go in my stead, but she decided to stay silent.
I started to walk away, but I looked back at Verranda and Alex. I stopped, crossed my index and middle fingers, and placed them on Alex's forehead. I said a quick word of blessing under my breath, and slowly turned to leave.
Bahamut would protect him.
He had to.
The hyena-men raced towards Katherin on all fours, cackling manicly. She turned and ran, her heart beating in her throat, trying to remember how to cast the few harmful spells she knew. The Gnolls darted for her at breakneck speed, saliva streaming from their wide mouths.
And at the worst possible moment, Katherin tripped.
A Gnoll leaped at her as she fell, missing her by millimeters. A few strands of her hair fell into the grass, cut by its passing claws. She tumbled, the monsters within four meters of her. Katherin's thoughts bounced wildly in her skull as she pressed her mind to remember even one spell. Amidst the chaos of her conciousness, certain things started to click. And she suddenly remembered how to cast 'Magic Missile'.
Lying on the ground, she looked up to see the Gnolls lift themselves up on their hind legs, and unstrap the handaxes on their belts. They cackled uncontrollably, with hideous, twisted smiles on their faces. A few licked their lips, staring at Katherin intently. The Gnolls drew ever closer, surrounding her, ready to scalp her before they ate her alive.
Katherin pulled her hand back past her head, and flicked her pointed finger forward at the nearest Gnoll. A bolt of white lightning shot at the speed of light from her finger, blasting the hyena-man back. The other Gnolls quickly glanced at their fallen brother, and hissed at Katherin.
She pointed her palms towards the ground, and released jets of air that lifted her to her feet. Katherin swiftly shot another Gnoll with one of her lethal missiles, and ran through the gap in the array she created. The brutes swung at her, just barely cutting her lower arm and thiegh. She clenched her teeth. The wounds weren't that bad, but they were bleeding. And that meant...
The smell of fresh blood threw the five remaining Gnolls into a frenzy. They waved their axes in the air wildly, yipping and laughing menacingly. The reds of their eyes grew deeper, and they opened them wider, staring seemingly into Katherin's soul.
Katherin took a few steps back, terrified. One of the Gnolls she dispatched earlier started to get back up, a horrible, black burn covering his right shoulder. Instead of a wicked smile, he bore his teeth in primodial anger. He store deeply into Katherin's eyes, practicly shacking with hatred. She tried turning away, but her body wouldn't move, petrified from fear.
Katherin overcame her fear enough to pull her hand back by her side, and launch it forward to unleash a small vortex of frosted wind toward the burned Gnoll. He let out a yip as his limbs became frostbitten, minute ice crystals forming on them. His red eyes became a dark purple as they rolled back into his head. He crumpled to the ground, ice crystals covering his body.
The other Gnolls laughed at their comrade's dead body, far too insane to care. Two of them dropped their axes and ran for Katherin on all fours. She barely had time to react before being pinned to the ground by one of them. The hyena's claws dug into her shoulder as she screamed in agony. The Gnoll cackled, wearing the same horrid smile, staring at her and taking delight in her cries of pain.
The second Gnoll paced around Katherin, chuckling as he awaited his next meal. Katherin's mind raced as she tried to think of something. Anything. The Gnoll ontop of her moved his face closer. His saliva dripped onto her neck, and the smell of rotted meat became overpowering. He cackled more as she tried moving her face away.
I can't die here, she thought.
This can't be my time.
I can't die alone.
But no one depends on me.
I didn't accomplish anything.
... No one would miss me...
Katherin exhaled deeply and relaxed. This is it. The Gnoll closed its mouth in puzzlement, but soon widened his smile once more. He chuckled to himself, and launched at Katherin's collarbone.
Before her vision faded, the last thing she saw was a large splash of her own blood.